Willing the Good of the Other

101 TIPS FOR A HAPPIER MARRIAGE. By Jennifer Roback Morse (663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road, #222, San Marcos, Calif. 92978, 2004; [j.morse@cos.net]), 17 pp. PB $4.77.

Jennifer Roback Morse is a theoretical economist, wife of an engineer, a mother of two, attached to the Hoover Institute at Stanford, a former professor at George Mason University. Her book, Love and Economics: Why the Laissez Faire Family Doesn’t Work (Spence, 2001, reviewed in HPR June, 2002) is a “must read” for anyone who wants to understand what a family is in today’s society and especially for any woman who seeks properly to balance family and profession.

The present short booklet is the result of columns and articles that Jennifer Morse has written in recent years on the various problems of family life. Here she zeros in on the crucial relation of the spouses to each other. Written in a short, pungent, witty style, this is not exactly a “how to” guide but a series of considerations that each couple can use to look at their mutual relationship. She presents steps needed to keep this relation solid and in tact.

If one goes to Google and types in “In Defense of Rash Vows,” he will find a brief and famous essay of G. K. Chesterton on the nature of the marriage vow. (The original essay was in a book entitled, The Defendant, from 1905). In this profound essay, Chesterton points out why a marriage vow, always rash as it defies the probabilities that marriage can work, enables a couple to survive the ordinary crises and incompatibilities that come up in any marriage. “The revolt against vows has been carried out in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage,” Chesterton wrote. “(…Opponents of marriage) have invented a phrase—“free love”— as if a lover ever has been or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at is word.” The vow is what enables a couple to get over those inevitable incompatibilities that arise in any marriage or life.

Jennifer Morse’s booklet is essentially a series of suggestions, admonitions, and practical considerations about how to deal with differences in character, sex, and perception. The advice is divided into fifteen subheadings. The 101 individual “tips” are never longer than ten lines. Some are as short as two—#56. “Avoid absolute statements such as, ‘You never,’ or ‘You always.’” #34 “Practice saying ‘yes’ to your spouse. If you can agree with her or him, do so.” #87 “Offer to help, ‘May I assist you?’ Don’t grab the job out of the other person’s hands.”

Jennifer Morse is utterly commonsensical in these short aphorisms and admonitions. But read as a whole, they touch on most of the real problems a couple might encounter, problems that they can deal with if they will. #77 “Be grateful if your spouse is better at changing the subject than you are. Don’t put him or her down for avoiding the issue. Changing the subject may be the most constructive thing you can do at this particular moment.” This is not a way to avoid an issue but a way to deal with it when both are ready.

The very first “tip,” itself reflective of Aristotle’s advice on friendship of spouses and of the Christian tradition, tells us, wisely, “Think about what is in the other person’s interest. The loving person wants the good of the other person, and is willing to follow through with actions.” That is it, of course, willing the good not of oneself, but of the other person. The carrying out of this “willing the good of the other,” especially of one’s spouse, a special relationship, is the delightful burden of these very welcome considerations. This booklet deserves wide readership and will be appreciated by its readers. #101 “Allow yourself to enjoy your spouse’s surprises ….”

James V. Schall, S.J.
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.

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